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Air Canada deal praised by union leaders, slammed by passenger rights groups

Last Updated Apr 13, 2021 at 7:19 am PDT

FILE -- An Air Canada check-in area is shown at Montreal-Pierre Elliott Trudeau International Airport, Saturday, May 16, 2020. Air Canada's chief THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes

Air passenger rights advocate crying foul, saying Air Canada aid package sends wrong message

Unifor is praising the recently announced Air Canada bailout package

CALGARY (660 NEWS) – The multi-billion-dollar bailout of Air Canada is causing quite the stir as reaction continues to surface on the major announcement.

It has the attention of one air passenger rights advocate who calls the move a bad deal.

“There is no enforcement mechanism to ensure that passengers are actually getting their refunds,” said Gabor Lukacs, the founder of Air Passenger Rights.

“It seems that refunds are funded by the public purse, not by the shareholders. The vast majority of this facility is an unsecured loan. It means that there’s no collateral for the loan. If Air Canada doesn’t pay back, there’s nothing that the government can do.”

Lukacs said the bailout leaves much to be desired and that it’s worded in a way by which the government can’t really enforce the conditions of the deal, which includes capping executive salaries and refunding customer money for cancelled flights.

He believes the deal sends corporations the wrong message.

“They (Air Canada) have been engaging in behaviour that is not acceptable, that shouldn’t be tolerated in any business. Misappropriating consumer’s money by the company, they have been aiding and abating in that and that has to be clear that this is not an acceptable business practice in Canada. On that point, the government miserably failed.”

‘The wrong message’

Lukacs is not mincing words, saying he would have liked to have seen “personal consequences” for airline executives who he believes “were involved in the airline misappropriating consumers’ money.”

“It could be even the form of … penalties, it could be in the form of criminal charges, it could be in the form of immediate discharge without any compensation. These people crossed the line — they have engaged in behaviour that is not acceptable and shouldn’t be tolerated in any business,” he said.

The reaction is also growing on social media as many decry the move saying the government is again putting big business ahead of other priorities.

“The Liberals are choosing a $6 billion handout for Air Canada over CERB, paid sick days, pharmacare, Indigenous nations’ drinking water.” said one Twitter user and activist.

Others are wondering if the timing of the aid package means a spring election is inevitable.

Union welcomes bailout

Meanwhile, Unifor, the national union representing thousands of Air Canada workers is welcoming the aid package.

“Today’s announcement by the federal government is a recognition that aviation workers are pivotal to the Canadian economy,” said Jerry Dias, Unifor National President. “The relief package provides a good balance of certainty for communities large and small, the company, and its workers.”

Unifor has been pressing the federal government for months to provide relief for the airline industry, as several other nations have already done.

The $5.9 billion package will allow Air Canada to provide refunds to passengers who had flights cancelled as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland and Minister of Transport Omar Alghabra no additional layoffs would be permitted as part of the deal. Freeland also said the resumption of service to 17 regional routes is a condition of the relief package.